Summer. Saltwater, sand, boating, beaches, concerts, cookouts, fireworks, road trips, family, friends, laughter, late nights, sunscreen, bug spray (a lot of bug spray), sweat, ponytails, ball caps, bathing suits, pool time, beer, coolers, Twice-The-Ice, Hall & Oats Pandora, AC... While listed in no particular order of importance, these things immediately come to mind when I think about summer. Almost all of these stir anticipation of the joy that is in store for us in the Lowcountry. Carefree Sundays, salty sunsets, and on-the-way-to-recovery sunrises await. Oppressive heat aside, summer in Charleston, SC is quite the season.
I think of joy and its presence in my daily life often during this time of year. A few years ago, I began learning to pinpoint the actual feeling of joy so I could more readily recognize and deliberately invite its presence. These are a few of the feelings that came up:
Joy to me is the:
Buzz I feel when I experience gratitude.
Tug of confidence when I fall on my face but did the best I could.
Satisfaction with something super functional. Like my lemon squeezer. I cannot express the joy this brings me.
Ease I feel in the kitchen with Jamey. Calm of a coloring and Yahtzee night with Jett. Fun banter about sci-fi characters during a binge-watch with Justin.
Giddiness when I feel I am truly seen by my brother or connect with my niece and nephews. Safety in hearing happiness in my Dad's voice.
Shiver just under my skin as the sun sets or rises over the water.
Power surge from the theme song for Star Wars or Top Gun.
Joy and abundance have become almost synonymous to me. I am genuinely unsure how to separate them. A hefty bonus, the goal of being debt free, and the challenge of creating a carefree budget are all part of my plan for stability and happiness. However… Joy is its own reservoir and where I choose to measure the abundance in my life. Here is the thing about joy. It is not shaded by our circumstances. It shines brightly, whether we choose to see it or not.
I was the first divorce in readily researchable generations of my Dad’s family. Single mom of 3-year-old twins with no idea what to do other than to hold down a job, get up, and keep said twins breathing. Failure’s predatory efforts fueled the pride that refused to stay in my home, take any of my furniture, allow in the pain, or ask for adequate help. Survival in those circumstances is what I thought kept me moving forward. How wrong I was! Hindsight gives us an incredible glimpse into reality if we will look back with naked eyes. Stripped of the rose-colored or blinding lenses.
You know what nudged me out of the dark that I believed would drown me? A semi-truck alarm clock that screamed to the sound of an engine revving, “WAKE UP! WAKE UP! BREAKER BREAKER ONE NINE!!" repeatedly from the twin's room across the new apartment and their pride at getting up and getting dressed “all by themselves.” Shorts on backward with shoes on the wrong feet, but they had “helped” and did it quietly and mostly in the dark. (Their 23-year-old, working mother was a bit of a cranky you-know-what in the morning.) Another core memory that drives me to this day? Disney's "Fox and the Hound" when Tod's mother dies. (If this is a spoiler, I have no sympathy for you.) The twins squealed in fear and cried tears soaked with injustice. I cried freely with them as I let my guard down after an anxiety-driven day doing all I could to navigate the unknown terrain of single parenthood. There are more. Pumpkins, Wockets in pockets, Igloo lunch boxes, and the list goes on. But I’d like to get to where I can settle my misting eyes and get to the point of realizing it was JOY backing these precious memories.
Here is the thing about the experiences that make us strong. The things that bring true gratitude. The moments that supercharge our will. They are often subtle. They do not come dressed in Mandalorian armor. They typically aren’t the first thing you recall or a story you are bursting at the seams to tell. They are in moments carrying a quiet force that are easily missed if you focus on the obvious, the pain, or the overtly boisterous. That which pushes us through what we feel we cannot endure is ladened with Joy.
Using my own examples, that incredibly annoying truck alarm created palpable confidence and energy in my toddler twins who had no idea how to process what was happening to their family. I would roll out of bed in a state of near rage over the loud “BREAKER BREAKER,” across the split-plan apartment, and there they would be. Struggling with armholes, tags-in-the-back, and shoestrings. Practically in the dark with nothing but determination and pride. Just inhaling the air in their room filled me with hope and my own determination. The Fox and the Hound? (Seriously should have been billed to an older audience.) Nonetheless, as they climbed in my new wicker bed to watch the only TV in a strange new place, they would flank me… knowing “Mom’s about to cry.” and cuddle me through the sad and scary parts. They had no idea that the sad and scary parts of our lives had nothing to do with Tod, Copper, and the mean hunters, but their effort to comfort me was one of my first real experiences when joy reared its head and flickered in the incredible darkness surrounding me. At the time I didn’t understand. Now…that shimmer of light 30 years ago is a baseline of my survival as a mother and my ever-growing relationship with the twins.
Here’s the truth. And it is truth based on spending the last few years painstakingly mining for gold in the muck of what I believed were bad memories and lost time. THIS is what is true. Joy is available. It doesn’t just happen. It isn’t circumstantial. It isn’t related to stability or happiness.
Joy is something that cannot be taken from you, interpreted for you, or given to you.
YOU get to choose it. YOU get to see it. YOU get to call it forward. YOU get to control the level of joy in your life.
These 2 exercises, repeated over and over in my life during the last few years, have produced the level of conviction you read in all the YOUs in the paragraph above. If you are struggling to find or feel joy… convinced your life doesn’t hold any… I double-dog dare you to start doing these 2 things. Once a year, once a month, once a week if that is what it takes. But definitely right now, at the beginning of this bright and lively season.
1. What does Joy mean to you?
The list you read earlier was the latest of many less descriptive attempts and it deepens and changes every time I sit down to answer the question. The point: Hone in on what you are doing and, more importantly, what you FEEL when you are experiencing a moment of joy. Digging into the physical responses joy creates makes it possible for you to recognize them in real-time…and eventually call joy to you on demand.
2. What makes you feel abundant?
Make a list of all the things that make you feel abundant. I would bet abundance and joy are not that different for you either. Rule: No financial talk in this list. We all would feel great if we could pay all the bills, buy a Jeep Sahara, move into a condo on the beach, and travel care-free doing good in the world for the rest of our lives. (Oh wait… Ha.. maybe that’s just me.) NO FINANCES. Examples from my list: The process of making a cup of tea. Late-night candles. The smell of popcorn. Finishing a book. Coloring. Twinkle lights. Christmas movies. Musicals. Disco balls. Visiting the library. Shawn Hayes. Catching my drift? Free or low-cost things. List as many as possible and keep the list open. Any time you want to invite joy into your day, look at the list and pick one. Trust me. It will seem pointless and forced at first. But the more you breathe in the popcorn scent or see the candle flicker or hear Shawn Hayes cackle during a podcast, I promise, you will find patterns. You will notice your mood or emotions elevate. You will learn to recognize and allow unincumbered joy more readily, regardless of the circumstances that may be causing stress or anxiety in the world outside of your soul.
Summer. When you can allow the sun to soothe the deepest part of your bones. When the water seems to come alive like no other time of year. A time when families come together whether they like it or not, and we all start to feel that summer-time vibe from school years past. It’s the perfect season to learn to cultivate your own joy. Master the skill to the point that you not only sip from the cup yourself but pour a bit for a sister who is struggling to find her own. That is the magical and healing force. Joy, when let loose, permeates the air around you and begins to propagate in the lives of others who find themselves in your peripheral.
You are a gorgeous, striving, joy-filled badass… whether you feel like it or not.
You just have to take the first step to believe in the possibility that it is true. If you are struggling to embrace that truth, that is ok. I have got you. I’ll believe for you as you start to make your lists, root around to find light in the dark places, and act out habits that intentionally tease joy into your life.
There is no better time than 3 months of 50 SPF, 110-degree days, 780% humidity, and 100% beauty to get started. Again… I double-dog dare you. It’s time.
This article was published in the Summer edition of Focus On Fabulous magazine.
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This blog is a personal collection of my thoughts, wins, losses, memories, and crossroad moments. Almost all of which were hashed out around my kitchen counter and in my journals. If any of it resonates with you and you are ready to free up the hidden badass you ARE right now, I can help. It’s time… Click the link and Let’s chat.